OREM — If you want proof that high school volleyball in Utah is better than ever, look at the 5A standings.
There is no undefeated team in the classification, and the first-round matchups pit some of the best programs against each other.
“The level of volleyball in Utah has increased,” said Allyce Wilson, head coach of the top-ranked Pleasant Grove Vikings. “There are more players that do a nice job overall in high school ball. Where it used to be just a few powerhouse programs, this year, whoever gets hot and plays well in the tournament and prepares the most will win.”
That’s a sentiment echoed by other 5A volleyball coaches.
“In my opinion, anybody could win it this year,” said Bingham head volleyball coach Melissa Glasker, whose team is ranked third and won the Region 3 title without a loss. “This year is so great. It really is getting the right matchup and playing well.”
The first part of that equation is outside a coach’s control. And this year, there are some phenomenal first-round matches starting with last year’s runner-up at the state tournament and perennial powerhouse, Lone Peak, taking on fourth-ranked and Region 1 champ Fremont.
The Knights may be the best four seed in the history of the tournament. The Knights struggled in the first round of region play but beat Riverton, Herriman and Lehi without dropping a set in the second round. They lost to Pleasant Grove in their final region match, but it took the Vikings five sets to finish the Knights.
Additionally, the Knights have always performed well in the postseason under head coach Deanna Meyer — regardless of their record coming in. The Knights are led by outside hitter Calyn Barry, middle hitters Makaila Jarema and Taylor Hudson, among others.
Fremont head coach Brock Mitchell understands what he’s up against, but he also brings a talented squad to UVU’s UCCU Center on Thursday.
“Region 4 is obviously very tough,” he said. “But I think our region is right up there with them. I think there are about eight teams that could put four solid matches together and could win this whole thing.”
The Silver Wolves struggled just before region play but have been nearly perfect since.
“We had some lofty goals pretty early in the year,” Mitchell said. “We hadn’t won region since 2006, so we started there.”
The team started strong with wins over Riverton and second-ranked 4A defending champ Sky View. The Silver Wolves lost to Northridge in the Northridge Tournament and then turned around and beat the Knights in their first region meeting. In fact, the only loss Fremont suffered in region play was to Layton in the second half of region play.
“Right during the Northridge tournament, we had a team challenge,” Mitchell said. “Things just weren’t going well. Everyone needed that little understanding of what we’re all working for.” They had a meeting, cleared the air, and earned the win — their first of two against Northridge.
“That settled us down,” he said. “It was perfect timing. The girls just came together. It clicked.”
The other promising matchup pits fifth-ranked Riverton against second-ranked Layton. The Lancers managed a region win against Fremont and are a very talented squad led by seniors Eliza Katoa, Grace Borges and Mikki Hill.
The Silverwolves are incredibly dangerous, thanks in large part to senior outside hitter Danelle Parady.
And the third interesting first-round match is Lehi, a No. 2 seed, playing Northridge, Region 1’s No. 3 seed. Both teams have been ranked in the top five, and they’ve beaten ranked teams this season.
The Knights are led by senior outside hitter Kaitlin Verbitski and senior libero Kelly Erwin. Lehi is led by libero Cydney Lund and hitters Rylin Roberts and McKayla Houghton.
Defending 5A state champion Pleasant Grove will take on Davis, normally a top team from Region 1. But the Darts have struggled this season and enter the tournament a fourth seed. The two teams met earlier this season, with Pleasant Grove sweeping Davis.
The Vikings have been led by Brisa Winterton, Madison Wolford and Rachel Gale this season.
Third-ranked Bingham will play Cottonwood, and the Miners won the region title without losing a set. In fact, they’ve lost two sets in the last two months.
“The flip side to sweeping teams in three is that we haven’t had a lot of fatigue,” Glasker said. “So we’ve been able to work on stuff at practices. Our kids, for sure, understand that our region isn’t indicative of what we’re going to see at state.”
Which is why the Miners played against teams like Lehi, Riverton and Pleasant Grove all summer.
“The great thing about this year is that whoever wants it is going to get it,” she said.
The Miners are led by senior outside hitters Lexi Thompson and Tori Glasker, as well as Gracie Tuifua.
“I feel bad that three really solid teams are going to get knocked out in that first round,” she said.
Region 2 champion Taylorsville also won its region title without a single loss. The Warriors face West Jordan, a matchup that favors the athletic squad.
The 5A tournament begins at 3:30 p.m. Thursday with all teams playing again later that night. The championship is scheduled for 8 p.m. Saturday, with 4A’s champion match taking place at 5 p.m.